- Distance: ~7.6 miles round trip
- Elevation: 6800ft gain (yeah that’s right), 8876ft highest point
- Weather: 50’s and hazy
- Commute from Seattle: 2:30, longer if you’re slow on gravel roads like me
- Did I Trip: I don’t think I did. Take that, Eldorado.
- GPX file here (summitpost, easy find)
John and Christina drove out Friday afternoon to secure permits, and I picked up Sam and headed out after work. The weekend started off with the usual buttload of traffic, and me taking inventory of everything I could have forgotten in my head. Ice axe? Got it. Crampons? Yep. Sleeping pads? Yes I can see them from here. Boots? Probably, I mean how could you forget boots. Headlamp? Check. Wait, did I forget boots? No, you’re just being paranoid. Oh you have to be kidding me, stop worrying. No? Fine, pull over and check the trunk [I pull over to the shoulder of the highway] just to double check AND WHERE ARE YOUR BOOTS YOU SCHMUCK?! Yeah, that’s right. We turned around and went back to Seattle. Through 6pm traffic. I hated myself. And there were my boots, innocently sitting next to the front door, looking up at me longingly with puppy eyes wondering why I had abandoned them. How could you.
So we arrived at the trailhead after dark and met up with Christina and John. I popped up my Nemo tent and went right to bed after having a beer, because why not. I had bought approach shoes (by which I mean minimalist trail runners) and packed plenty of unnecessary goodies since I expected an easy climb. We were planning on potentially bagging Dorado Needle too, but that didn’t happen. Oh, and my coworker hilariously suggested we try Johannesburg as a day trip the day before Eldorado. Anyway, I didn’t know how much the trail would kick my ass. Learn from my mistakes and research the approach hikes, folks.
The trail gets right to it. It felt like a bushwhack. You cross a few logs going across a river (hope you have good balance with a 50lb pack) overgrown with branches, and pop out in thick woods on the other side. The trail is flat for like 500ft, and then it starts climbing. And climbing. With plenty of rocks and roots to hop over. One log was tall enough I thought I could jump onto it, but the weight of my pack pulled me back and luckily Sam was right below me to push me back upright before I fell backwards on my ass off a 30 inch tall log. Yeah, I gotta work on that core strength. And balance.
After just over an hour in the woods, we came up to the boulder field. The boulder field from hell. We’ll get to that part. For now, it was my turn to carry the rope, appropriately nicknamed The Green Monster: 9mm, 70m, and clocking in at just over 9lbs. Yes, it’s a rock climbing rope. Add that to your 50lb pack and tell me you’re happy. Suddenly I found myself regretting the 20oz of southwestern-style -chicken, three avocados, and full pound of cheddar cheese that I had in my pack. Come on man, you’d have been fine with goldfish and granola and a dehydrated meal like usual, but nooo, your cocky ass brought a fucking feast. Buns and thighs, baby, working on those buns and thighs.
And why’s it called the boulder field from hell? I mean it’s not really that bad. Scrambling is fun (if you can call it that), trail finding is fun, seeking out cairns is fun, and these cairns are actually pretty well made and artsy.. but after 30 minutes, where was the glacier? Where was the peak? Everything looked the same. We were making no progress. Johannesburg loomed in the background, which was cool, except the view never changed. And it didn’t feel like we got higher. The boulder field didn’t end. It just. Kept. Going. That’s why it’s from hell. Because you’re lugging 50+lbs of gear, in minimalist trail runners, sweating profusely because you only brought long sleeves and pants, because you’re an idiot.
Finally, after an eternity of identical rocks, you hit trail again, and switchback steeply up a hillside into a gradual meadow. Blueberries!! Blueberries everywhere! Game changer. I felt better. I was double-fisting berries left and right. We took a nice long lunch break above the trees, where I tried to eat as much chicken and cheese and avocado as possible, because fuck if I was carrying that shit for the whole trip if we were in for more neverending boulder fields.
From the basin where we had lunch, you gain a small gully on climber’s left that then descends steeply to the valley where the glacier begins. Dropping over the ridge we got our first view of the glacier, and damn was it a good feeling. Going up the valley involved a bit more light scrambling along some rolling slabs of rock flattened by the glacier long ago. It’s pretty cool imaging where the glacier used to be (and a bit sad). There’s plenty of running water there, so we filled up. It’s line-of-sight/path-of-least-resistance to the terminus of the glacier on the right (the side that has a snow finger and isn’t completely broken up). There’s a “swiss cheese” rock that we used as a landmark, a black rock full of holes that, if you didn’t guess, looked like swiss cheese. From there, we aimed for the lowest snow finger, put on our boots (my feet have never been happier to put on stiff ass boots), roped up, and got moving.
Sam and Christina were both new to glacier travel. It made me realize how desensitized to certain things I’ve become. When I first started, Eeery crevasse was new and awesome (and a little scary), stepping over them and looking at how the ice was falling and the bright blue color was a whole new experience. At this point, stepping over a crevasse is like walking over a crack in the sidewalk. Shrug. We did pass what we thought was a groaning crevasse, which was unsettling and eerie. On the way down we determined that it was running water, but the first time you hear the noise as you take a step, it’s unnerving. We moved across it quickly.
We did get sidetracked by one huge crevasse spanning a large section of the lower glacier. We had to backtrack completely, where we found a decent snowbridge to cross. The route at this time of year hugged the rocky ridge on the right very, very closely once we were past the first few crevasses. Like within feet of the rocks, with a few stretches on exposed ice (flat, don’t worry). Once you pop out onto the plateau with Eldorado in the background, it’s a straight shot to the ridge if you’re aiming to camp on the rocky shoulder below the summit. Which you should be, because it has the best views, running water, a short climb to the summit, and… wait for it….
A composting toilet!! WOOO!! I thought Christina was making fun of me when she told me there was a toilet, but there it was in all its glory, with a five-star view of the face of Mt. Forbidden, whose west ridge I’ll climb someday. And I will gaze out at Eldorado, and wonder if there is some majestic crapper looking back at me.
Don’t get too excited, because it was out of order. Due to overuse. That’s right. Overuse. Too much poop. Stop shitting, Washington. Take it from Chris Traeger. I walked dejectedly back to my tent. Oh, and the smoke and haze from wildfires dominated the view and you could barely see Forbidden, and you’d have no idea Moraine Lake was down below if you weren’t looking for it. So we had a useless toilet with no view. So really, just blue bags and smoke. Can’t win ’em all, right?
After a relaxing afternoon at camp, mostly chilling and eating and whining about the views, I went to bed early. My last summit day had been fairly late (~5am wake up on Shuksan) and we were planning on 3am for Eldorado. You guys, I got the best night of sleep I’ve had in like months. Even including the times I’ve slept in a bed like a normal person. I was unconscious, cozy, comfortable, had the whole tent to myself, it was so wonderful.
I woke up feeling refreshed and still cozy, and hopped out to mooch off someone’s stove to make tea and wait for everyone to be ready. My gear is almost always packed the night before, so I can have time to enjoy my tea. And damn, did I enjoy that tea. I could see the entire milky way, a strip of dense stars, which I’ve only seen once before in my entire life (and that was peeing in a field on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere in Eastern Washington, so it was easy to top). And I sipped my tea, lying on a rock, gazing at the stars, listening to Come and Get Your Love playing from Sam’s iphone in the distance. Okay, I might have requested it. He tried to skip over it and I demanded that he put it back on because I had started laughing as soon as I heard the first few measures. Come on, cheesy upbeat music when you’re on a mountain wrapped in puffy layers at 3am looking at the milky way, waiting to start trekking up a glacier? It’s perfect.
We started off with me in the lead again. We knew there’d be an impassable bergschrund eventually, but I didn’t know when or where, so we hugged the rocks until it was plainly obvious. By which I mean right freaking in front of us. I had missed the ideal turnoff onto the rocks. In my defense I saw it, and asked about it, but we kept moving thinking we couldn’t be that close to the schrund. So unless we wanted to backtrack, we were on to plan B: a six inch thick snow finger, if you can call it that, which ran for five or so feet to the rocks. More like a diving board. I prodded it with the axe. Welp, we’ll go quickly. It’s early, it’s frozen, we’ll just avoid it on the way down. There was one near miss that involved some teeter-tottering, but we made it. And that was how I almost ended my team at 4am climbing Eldorado.
Once on the rocks, it was an easy class 2 scramble back to rejoin the snow. We weren’t going to scramble all the way up, hell no, we wanted that knife edge ridge. We took a quick snack break back on the glacier to watch the sun rise, and started up to the ridge.
The ridge is a dream. I was worried it’d be flatter now because of all the use over the summer, and it was, but it was still only just over a foot wide, with more than enough exposure. You slip, your teammate better hop off the other side (no I’m serious, that’s what you do). I savored every second crossing it to the rocks at the end. I’m not sure my whole team felt the same way, but I live for that stuff. You’re on top of the world. Where’s the helicopter swirling around me to take a crazy panorama while I stand there with outstretched arms, and we can throw in some awesome background music? A Go Pro won’t cut it, if I spin around with that I’m guaranteed to fall off the ridge.
We took a very long break at the top to take pictures and set up some practice ice climbing so John could test out his new ice tools. It wasn’t as steep as it looked, but that meant we could practice pretty safely. We set up an anchor with ice screws at the top so we could belay the entire thing, and took turns getting back up to the ridge from a starting point we chose. I had John lower me (I’m better at that now, I’ve finally figured out what being perpendicular to the rope feels like) before climbing back up. After maybe two hours, John and Christina went to see if you could scramble all the way back (the answer is yes!) and Sam and I roped up to head back down the glacier. We met back up on the rock by the impassable bergschrund, and took the glacier back to camp (easier than rocks).
Another long break at camp followed by the hike out, which I was dreading. That boulder field was going to be miserable and I knew it. At the base of the glacier I didn’t know what would be worst. Back to the minimal trail runners, or stick with the mountaineering boots? Both choices kind of sucked. I went with the trail runners.
Even before hitting the boulder field, I stopped to wonder what was going on. My feet hurt. Were my socks painfully bunched up somehow, or was all of the skin sloughing off of the bottom of my feet? I didn’t want to know the answer, so I didn’t look. Being absorbed in my feet misery I failed to collect blueberries, or even notice them. On the boulder field, it was me vs. my brain. The epic battle inside my head. It wasn’t on par with the last stretch of Paradise at Rainier a few weeks prior, but it was tough. I don’t even know why. It’s not a long climb, or that physically demanding, the boulder field is just damn tedious. Sam hopped along ahead of us, while I lagged behind relying on him to find the route because I wanted to just space out until the boulder field was past. We took a break after hours (maybe, in my head it was hours) and I whipped out the emergency Gu. Yeah, like my running snacks. I keep some caffeinated ones just in case, and it was time. I hadn’t needed one on a single climb this summer until now. I pounded one and Sam and Christina split the other one since I only had two. It kicked in after maybe 20-30 minutes, and I was feeling much better. When we hit the forest I knew it was only a matter of time.
“This is where your torture begins” John said after a while. I had just noticed I could hear the river! We must be getting close! I asked what he meant. “We can hear the river so we’re close!” He laughed. That’s the torture. You just listen to it and realize how not close you are, and how little progress you’re making. And as usual, he was right. When we finally did reach the river, I chuckled because I knew crossing those logs would be damn hard with how shaky my legs were feeling, and how my feet were protesting any sort of involvement in my life. But we made it across, dropped out packs at the car, I dibsed the trailhead bathroom first (hell yea) followed by Christina, who had looked exhausted but excitedly exited the bathroom and proclaimed “EVERTHING IS RIGHT WITH THE WORLD!” We ran to take a dip in the river inspired by two other climbers who had just beaten us back to the trailhead. Painful and relieving at the same time. I hobbled in on my half-skinned feet, half crawling while pathetically trying to avoid sharp rocks, and Sam and John joined. John literally just sat down. Clothes and all. Plopped his ass down in the river. There’s nothing like water after an exhausting day. It was a flashback to taking a dip in the ocean after a long run in Breezy Point. Just dreamy.
Except the I had to drive three hours home before a real shower and bed. We said bye to John and Christina, and by some miracle, avoided all traffic. flipping through the photos the next morning, I couldn’t believe it. Sometimes you get saturated with views and forget just how amazing it is where you are. And then you look back at pictures, and are just stunned by what you did. That’s how many of my trips are. I don’t remember anything without the pictures. And instead, I can sit here scrolling through my own pics, making myself jealous. Great trip, great people, can’t wait for the next one! I hope no one’s sick of come and get your love yet.